Roma Holiday

Evan Moffitt around Zona Maco

Alejandro Chellet performing in  “Viviendo en el tiempo” at Ex Teresa Arte Actual. All photos by author.

BODIES SURGED toward the front doors of LAGO, whose opening bash had just reached capacity. The crowd pleaded desperately to security guards for entry. Someone began pushing and faces flattened against glass. Everyone was on the list, but no one could get in. The more intrepid guests circled around the back of the pavilion, toward the dark, brackish lake. Security guards rushed to pull us off planters. Through the windows, a golden pendulum by Artur Lescher and a James Turrell window, radiating neon pink, seemed unperturbed by the invading horde—or, for that matter, the steady throb of Tulum house on the dance floor.

It was the signal party of Zona Maco, an art week that suffered another kind of invasion. On the leafy streets of Condesa, Roma Norte, and Juárez, American accents wafted from café tables. “I’m here for the winter,” these flat-voweled voices said. (This writer was among them.) More tourists than ever seemed to have descended from the northern reaches of the US and Europe, escaping work, cold weather, or Covid closures—an exercise of privilege that was not without complications for a city undergoing massive gentrification and a surge of infections. Still, the arrival of several new galleries and seasonal pop-ups seemed to confirm that something exciting was happening in Mexico City, the last century of art-world internationalism notwithstanding.

LAGO, the new exhibition space of OMR Gallery, is housed in a 1964 cast-concrete gem by Alfonso Ramírez Ponce located on a lake in the Bosque de Chapultepec, the city’s largest park. It spent the last half century of its life as a boathouse and ballroom for fresa (posh) quinceañearas. Now, its restaurant shares the venue with works by the likes of Turrell, Jorge Mendez Blake, Pia Camil, and Simon Fujiwara. LAGO’s inaugural exhibition, “Form Follows Energy,” was organized in collaboration with José Garcia, the venerable gallerist whose artist roster OMR appears poised to cannibalize. 

Magalí Arriola and Stanley Whitney in conversation at Nordenhakke Gallery.

By the time Ponce’s structure filled up with cigarette smoke and aerosolized tequila, half the capital was already nurturing a serious hangover. The night before, all the galleries in town opened simultaneously, a move that seemed cruelly coordinated. Uber traffic made it impossible to visit them all. (Going from Llano in Doctores to Morán Morán in Polanco? Forget about it.) Some spaces felt subdued—like House of Gaga, with its stellar show of storybook paintings by Raúl Guerrero from the late 1990s featuring Mexico City street scenes—while others—like the design pop-up Masa, sprawled across an empty floor in a high-rise office tower—were packed with people too busy drinking to pay much attention to the smoothly sanded stone sculptures by Rafael Prieto, Loup Sarion, and Mario García Torres. Some respite was had at Nordenhakke, where the artist Stanley Whitney spoke to Museo Tamayo director Magalí Arriola about his painterly influences (and his run-ins with the Black Panthers) to a standing-room only audience. At kurimanzutto, Leonor Antunes’s delicately crafted leather, bamboo, hemp rope, and glass sculptures, planted into the floor or hung from the rafters, almost dissolved into the opening night crowd.

On the ground floor of Hilario Galguera, meanwhile, a group exhibition organized by New York’s Mitchell-Innes & Nash paired photographs and leather objets by Tiona Nekkia-McClodden with nude studio portraits by Paul Mpagi Sepuya and Lucas Samaras—a daringly kinky combination that seemed likely to ruffle buttoned-up local collectors. In the early morning hours, an unofficial afterparty gathered on the dark mezzanine of Tom’s Leather Bar, a gay dive with strippers and fake gothic arches. We surveyed the proprietor’s copies of Caravaggio and Rembrandt paintings—onto which he had transposed his own face—and wondered drunkenly if this might be the best show in town.

View of Carlos Motta's The Fall of the Damned, 2021, at the P.P.O.W. booth, Zona Maco.

It was certainly better than the majority of Zona Maco, which opened Wednesday morning with more of a whimper than a bang. For the last few years, the event has been fighting attrition on two fronts: Frieze Los Angeles, which attracts the bigger galleries, and the local Material Art Fair, which draws in the smaller, hipper ones. The remaining blue-chip spaces, such as Proyectos Monclova and Travesía Cuatro, were clustered this year in the middle of Centro Citibanamex, besieged by an ever-growing number of design presentations. The artist-run Guadalajara90210 showcased mesmerizing paintings by Jonathan Miralda Fuksman, their marching men in suits reminiscent of Maurice Binder animations. New York’s P.P.O.W. brought a refreshingly ambitious booth of paintings by Guadalupe Maravilla in ornately sculptural frames and surrealist tableaux by Astrid Terrazas, paired with photographs by David Wojnarowicz. At center, a wallpaper and set of drawings by Carlos Motta featuring naked bodies locked in Dantean torments (The Fall of the Damned, 2021) felt like a reproach to the week’s excesses.

View of Praxis, the home and studio of Agustín Hernandez.

Those were epitomized by two Thursday events as brutal on the liver as they were in their architectural environs. Visitors guzzled mezcal while they queued to tour “What Lies Under the Tree,” an exhibition organized by the Monterrey-based gallery Peana at Praxis, the house and studio of architect Agustín Hernández: an alien, arboresque structure, comprising two interlocking concrete pyramids atop a slender support column. Sculptures by Tania Pérez Cordova, Rodrigo Hernández, Pedro Reyes, and others sat on slate gray carpets and chrome balustrades, ready to take off in the concrete spaceship and fly.

At the Tamayo gala that evening, collectors and curators gathered on a concrete patio under cascading birds of paradise. In 2021, with its fortieth anniversary approaching, the museum’s future was uncertain: Mexico’s President, Andres López Manuel Obrador, had cut more than 75 percent of the national culture budget, leaving public institutions desperate for cash. Yet as dinner wore on, donations flowed like Casa Dragones Blanco, ensuring that one of the country’s most important art museums would prosper. The dessert course was cut short by thumping reggaeton, and everyone rushed to the dance floor. Laughter spilled out of bathroom stalls. The mood felt more akin to a drunken wedding or bar mitzvah, a brief suspension of art-world influence-peddling and cynicism. We all hoped the buzz would last.